Thursday, April 5, 2007

Return to Petersburg

The 48th Pennsylvania Monument
Petersburg, Virginia

On June 20, 1907, several dozen surviving veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania gathered at Petersburg, Virginia, to attend the dedication and unveiling of the regimental monument, erected "to the memory of Colonel George W. Gowen, and other members of the regiment who were killed in battle during the Civil War." The monument was located on the Davis Farm, along the Jerusalem Plank Road, and near the spot where Fort Mahone once stood. It was here some 42 years earlier that the regiment participated in its final battle of the war. On April 2, 1865, the 48th Pennsylvania charged and ultimately carried Fort Mahone but at a heavy cost. Eleven members of the regiment were killed, including Colonel George W. Gowen, and another 55 fell wounded. The location of the regiment's monument at Petersburg marked the spot where Gowen fell.

The veterans of the 48th who attended the dedication of the monument in 1907 were welcomed by General Stith Bolling, and the members of the A.P. Hill Camp, Confederate Veterans. The governors of both Pennsylvania and Virginia were also present, as were some 1,200 others who gathered to witness the event.

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Efforts to erect a monument at Petersburg began in 1905, two years before the dedication. A committee was selected from the members of the 48th Pennsylvania Veterans Association, and fundraising efforts began in earnest. The people of Pottsville donated generously, as did school children from throughout Schuylkill County. The veterans association even invited Captain John Featherston, of Lynchburg, Virginia, to deliver an address in Pottsville "for the benefit of the monument fund." Featherston, who commanded a brigade of Alabamians in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of the Crater, traveled to Pottsville, and his lecture went far in helping the association reach its goal. The monument, which measured 20'8" in height, is made of granite and is topped by a bronze representation of Colonel George Gowen at parade rest. The final cost of the monument was $5,000.
After the money was raised and the monument was ready to be unveiled, the Veterans Association sent out invitations to the regiment's veterans:

Invitation to Attend the Unveiling of the 48th PA Monument at Petersburg

Those who could make the journey were provided with train tickets. Transportation costs for the dedication were covered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

Passenger Train Tickets Provided to Members of the 48th to Attend the Monument Unveiling

Those who wished to attend and participate in the event were also provided with an itinerary of the days' activities, letting them know where they were supposed to be, and when. Also, as is noted in the following letter, "As Petersburg is a city of about 30,000 inhabitants, there will be no difficulty to secure hotel accomodations at reasonable rates." I suppose Pennsylvania thought paying for the cost of transportation was enough.


Finally, programs for the unveiling were distributed. . .

Program, Listing the Order of Events at the Unveiling

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Dedication day was Thursday, June 20, 1907. After parading through the streets of Petersburg, the veterans of the 48th gathered near the monument. Here they were welcomed by General Bolling, head of the A.P. Hill Camp, Confederate Veterans. Bolling was a veteran of Lee's army and as he began his address, he said that when he was surrendered at Appomattox "my wildest dreams could not have conceived the idea, that forty-two years after I had sheathed my sabre forever that I should here upon this spot welcome with heartfelt sincerity the faithful soldiers of the 48th Regiment from the Keystone State, who come here to honor a gallant soldier, who fell upon this field."

Following Bolling's welcome, Pennsylvania's Adjutant General, Thomas J. Stewart, who himself served in the 6th Corps during the Civil War, delivered the response. Stewart thanked Bolling for the cordial welcome and expressed his gratitude to the people of Petersburg, and of Virginia. He also hinted about what must have been on everyone's mind. . .Let's face it: If there was one Union regiment that might not be very kindly welcomed in Petersburg, it was the 48th Pennsylvania. It was they, of course, who, 43 years earlier, tunneled under the Confederate defenses and triggered the mine explosion. "Many of us have been here before," spoke Stewart, "under very different circumstances. These survivors of the 48th Regiment tried to get into Petersburg forty-three years ago; they knew they were forcing themselves upon you, and they did not expect any such welcome as they received to-day. . . .[But] Today we journey here in peace, to raise a memorial and a tribute to the days and men of war: days rich in heroic achievement, days of unsurpassed bravery, out of whose mighty tumult and carnage there was wrought and shaped the undying fame and glory of the American volunteer soldier, both in blue and in gray."

After Stewart finished, Major Frank Leib, Chairman of the 48th's Veteran Association, formally turned over the monument to the State of Virginia. Then came the unveiling. The actual unveiling was performed by Ms. Bessie B. Reid, daughter of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Robert A. Reid, who served in Company F, and Mrs. Otelia Mahone McGill, daughter of Confederate General William Mahone, whose troops opposed the 48th Pennsylvania for much of the Petersburg Campaign.

Governors Edwin Stuart (Pennsylvania) and Claude Swanson (Virginia) with their staffs at the Dedication and Unveiling of the 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Petersburg.
Ms. Bessie Reid (left) and Mrs. Otelia Mahone McGill (right) performed the unveling.

Veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania at the Dedication

More speeches followed the unveiling. Governor Edwin Stuart of Pennsylvania delivered a few appropriate words, as did Governor Claude Swanson of Virginia. Interestingly, Swanson made it a point to declare that the monument will be well taken of, promising the members of the 48th that their memorial will not be vandalized, since it was "not only a monument to your Regiment, but to Virginia and the nation." "If there is anything a Virginian worships, if there is anything a Virginian loves, it is heroism, valor, and courage, and a man ever willing to give all for his convictions and beliefs," Swanson told the gathered crowd.

The dedication concluded with a lengthy oration delivered by S.A. Thurlow. Following Thurlow's speech, the crowd dispersed and the state dignitaries began to make their way back home. For the veterans of the 48th, however, there was one more activity on their itinerary. For most, this was the first time they had traveled back to Petersburg since the war ended forty-two years earlier, and they made it a point to visit the site of the Crater and to place a small monument at the entrance to the mine. Another, though much smaller and less elaborate, ceremony took place here. Sergeant William J. Wells delivered the ceremonial address:

"Time, that healer of all dissensions among men has, during the forty-three years which have intervened since we last stood here, face to face, thrown the mantle of charity and partial forgetfulness over these stirring events; and the bitterness of those days in which brother fought against brother, and father against son, has happily passed away, we hope and believe, never to return, while a new generation, with new ideas, new aspirations, new ideals, has come upon the scene of our activity, and we who fought here are enabled without the loss of manly dignity, to grasp each other's hand in national pride, and to recall the events of 1861-1865, in which we took so conspicuous a part, only to laud each the deeds of the other. Thus we assemble upon this historic spot to unveil to the gaze of generations, as yet unborn, a monolith to mark the spot which might, and perhaps should, have been the crucial event in the campaign before Petersburg, and which, preadventure, might have been the intial movement looking to the rapid close of that terrible strife for which we all longed; but fate, however, decided otherwise; and the contest was continued. This, I believe is now the generally accepted opinion of the leaders on both sides."

Wells then provided a brief history of the 48th's part in the initial attacks on Petersburg, and of the regiment's mining operation. He concluded with this thought:

"In the unveiling of this marker and that at the entrance to the mine, we do it not as an act of glorification, nor as a reminder to the good people of Petersburg, or of Virginia, or of the sunny Southland, that we once sought to subdue them; but that the descendants of the brave men of the South and of the North may ever remember the struggle which took place here on the thirtieth day of July, 1864, in which those who fought for the possession of this hill-crest, and those who succesfully held it, were men of the same blood, of the same nation, and equally brave. May these markers and that monument to-day unveiled on the Jerusalem plank road, near Fort Mahone, by the survivors of the 48th Pennsylvania Regiment, ever remind our people that, forgetting the past, we are to-day one people, with one flag, and having a common destiny."

Survivors of the 48th gather near the entrance to the Mine at Petersburg

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The 48th Pennsylvania Monument: Petersburg, Virginia


A bronze statue of Colonel George W. Gowen stands atop the monument
Gowen, who was killed on April 2, 1865, looks north. . .toward the location where Fort Mahone once stood.
The Monument today is completely surrounded by commercial development. Don't blink, or you might miss the monument while traveling through Petersburg. . .

Power Lines and Traffic Signals

Now Gowen faces north. . .towards a tire business and a strip mall

On the north side of the pedastal is this bronze tablet. Daniel Nagle spoke of the efforts to raise the money for the monument: "And. . .in behalf of our Association, the public school children, the public press, the patriotic citizens, our comrades of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and our friend, Captain John Featherston. . .who by his excellent lecture on the Crater, delivered in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the headquarters of the regiment, very materially increased the funds, thus enabling us, before we too joined the silent army, to pay tribute to our dead, by placing on this historic and hallowed ground of old Virginia, this monument."

A bronze depiction of Colonel Henry Pleasants, mastermind of the Petersburg Mine, is located on the eastern side of the monument.

A bronze table depicting soldiers of the 48th carrying powder into the mine decorates the southern side of the monument.

[I am indebted to Mr. Philip Johnson, of Petersburg, Virginia, for the modern-day pictures of the 48th Pennsylvania Monument].


Unknown said...

This Monument, as well as others, in and around Petersburg are in dire need of restoration. These Monuments represent a very significant part of our Nations History. I am 45 years old, I have never seen these Monuments undergo any type of cleaning,restoration, etc. As a citizen of Petersburg I am ashamed that our city does not, or will not maintain these National Treasures.

John David Hoptak said...

Thank you so much for all of your assistance with the Petersburg monuments. With the sesqui-centennial of the war fast approaching, maybe we can work something out for the restoration of the monuments around Petersburg.
Thanks again~

Unknown said...


I agree 100%, I have e-mailed Chris Calkins, Park Historian, Petersburg National Battlefield, to ascertain who is responsible for the upkeep of these sites.
Hopefully he will respond.


Bobby Edwards said...

I saw that the Monument was placed on the Davis Farm. From earlier research I knew there was a W.P. Davis Farm located at the Junction of the Vaughn and Halifax Road, close to the Weldon Railroad.

On June 21st, 1864, Barringer's Troops were engaged by Barlow's Troops from the 2nd Division. Barringer placed his Artillery of McGregor along the Railroad and advanced a couple of lines away from the railroad. The first line engaged Barlow, and when Barlow pursued with vigor, Barringers Men waiting for the Federals Poured Several Volleys into Barlows troops, along with the Batteries of McGregor. Barringer's troops were pushed back by Barlow, and from the lines in Petersburg, A.P. Hill sent Wilcox's Infantry to the engagement going on. Reinforced with Infantry, Barringer and Wilcox pushed back Barlow's men to the Jerusalem Plank Road, where they were reinforced by Birney's Troops. At the end of the day, Barringer withdrew from the Jerusalem Plank road and the Davis Farm, Close to the Jerusalem Plank Road.
Twenty Three Men of the 3rd North Carolina were Wounded, Killed, or Captured June 21st, and Many of them Reported Wounded at the Davis Farm. If they were Wounded at the Jerusalem Plank Davis Farm Instead of the Vaughn/Halifax Davix Farm, then I have "New Information" about the Location where my Ancestor was Wounded - June 21st.

I have seen the Monument to the 48th Pennsylvania, and I know where it is by the Merchants Tire Store, on Crater Road [Jerusalem Plank Rd]. Perhaps, I now know where my Ancestor was Wounded, as the Barringer Brigade were all the way to Jersualem Plan at the end of the day the 21st. Good News!

Anonymous said...

The monument is maintained by the National Park Service, not the city of Petersburg. In 2010 the monument was cleaned and some major refurbishing conducted. The biggest problem IMO is that the employees of the tire store really don't seem to understand the significance of the monument, and have even allowed cars to park on the grass surrounding the statue. That grass is NPS property, and the grass is regularly mowed by the park crew. I hope to be able to put my usual flower tribute by the monument this year.